Professional bodies add huge value to society
In an uncertain world where government, trade associations and trade unions often have to think short term, one set of organisations stand out as providing a constant and consistent push for technical, productivity and welfare improvements – the professional bodies.
Despite their traditional associations, professional bodies have as their central activity the sharing and dissemination of information on how to make things better, whether that is improved techniques and processes, advances in technology or better worker welfare. And they don’t exist to help their members compete, but to help them collaborate.
A new study has found that professional bodies play an unsung role in promoting trust in British society and creating value in ways that score high on the current political agenda, such as productivity and social mobility. The Chartered Institute of Building’s latest report, ‘Understanding the Value of Professionals and Professional Bodies’, surveyed more than 2,000 members of the public and over 150 MPs for their perception of professional bodies.
The polling of the public found that 61% agree that professional bodies can help guide government on relevant policies. And polling of MPs found that 48% score professional bodies at 4 or 5 on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the highest) for effectiveness in supporting good policy making in their industry.
But there is clearly work to do in communicating the value of professionalism in UK society. While four in five Britons (80%) have heard of professional bodies, only 41% say they know something about them, suggesting that membership institutions are unsung heroes in contributing to society.
The report finds that professional bodies in the UK offer significant value to society in five areas that top current social and political agendas, namely:
- Productivity – through increasing the capability of the workforce by promoting best practice and sharing the latest advancements;
- Social mobility – by providing routes to entry for all and in providing trusted qualifications that remain open to individuals at any point within their career;
- Governance and ethics – by setting standards for behaviour and competence and sanctioning those who contravene them;
- International development – by exporting qualifications and professional services via growing international networks;
- Policy formation – by undertaking research which advances understanding of important issues and by sharing specialist knowledge with decision makers.
But perhaps the greatest value of professional bodies lies in the promotion of trust in society. Public polling found that a vast majority of those who know something about professional bodies agree that they would trust a professional more if they knew that they were a member of a professional body.
And the MPs polled on balance believe professional bodies are effective in promoting robust standards of compliance, governance and ethics in their industry.
“This study shows that so much of the value professional bodies provide goes unnoticed,” said Chris Blythe, chief executive at the CIOB. “For instance, a remarkable fact is that the structure of high level professional education and qualifications has developed over many years with little, if any, taxpayers’ money. With the changes that have taken place in education and training over the last 50 years, professional bodies have tended to provide, through their qualifications, a consistent benchmark.
“Change occurs all the time in the industry and in Government. But professional bodies remain the only constant. The expertise and knowledge acquired through our members and experts can only help Government and industry adapt to the challenges ahead.”
In response to the report the Professional Association Research Network (PARN) commented on its value in understanding the role professional bodies play within all kinds of sectors not just construction. They cited 'familiarity leads to favourability' as a conclusion to the two CIOB surveys. You can read PARN's blog on the report here.
o Professional bodies improve productivity through increasing the capability of the workforce by promoting best practice and sharing the latest advancements. They also improve trust, which reduces uncertainty and transaction costs.
o Professional bodies help to co-ordinate advances in innovation and promote the uptake of new techniques and technologies.
o By improving productivity, the damaging effects of skills shortages can be alleviated.
o Professional bodies provide routes to entry for all. In offering trusted qualifications that remain open to individuals at any point within their career, employers are better placed to select candidates on merit, rather than on achievements in early-years.
o Professional bodies can act to encourage fairer access, whether social, gender or race, and discourage discrimination. They can also create a culture that promotes aspiration for all.
o On the surface, it appears professional bodies, by their nature, inhibit access to the unqualified. But their role to promote education, career choices and to widen membership routes opens up and propels the careers of all.
Governance and ethical standards
o It does not matter how skilled and experienced a person is or becomes: if they behave dishonestly and without regard for the rights of others, they are not a professional. Professional bodies set ethical codes and discipline the members who do not adhere to them.
o Professional bodies can be extremely effective at improving standards of governance and ethics, imbuing their members with an ethical culture and sense of greater purpose, keeping them abreast of what is and what is not acceptable and providing a safe haven for those who speak up against wrongdoing.
o Professional bodies should not be shying away from tough issues and should be seen as part of their duty to act in the public interest.
o Professional bodies provide the ability to help export professional services abroad via widely recognised standards. Having membership across international markets means that the qualifications, practices and culture become more aligned globally. This can ease access to opportunities for UK professionals or firms seeking to work abroad, if qualifications are recognised.
o UK professional bodies are at an advantage. The global respect for the laws and institutions of the UK (broadly, the notion of the rule of law), makes them attractive, particularly among nations with less developed institutional frameworks.
o For bodies with a Royal Charter, the association and connection to the British monarchy is seen as highly prestigious in international markets.
o Institutions undertake large amounts of research that push forward the boundaries of knowledge. This research will frequently offer up policy challenges and solutions which can be brought to the attention of relevant policy makers.
o The public benefit commitment from professional bodies with a Royal Charter means that the information and advice they provide to policy makers comes with a greater degree of trust than that from commercial sources.
The CIOB will be launching the report in front of MPs and industry at both the Conservative and Labour party conferences. A copy of the report is available to download at www.ciob.org/management.
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